Monday, 5 September 2011

'Until thy Wrath be Past' - Åsa Larsson

I have not read any Swedish crime novels, or any other genre, since the final installment of Stieg Larsson's trilogy. After I moved to the UK I pretty much stopped paying attention to Swedish writers and I'm embarrassed to say that until recently I had not heard of Åsa Larsson. When fellow blogger Spriteby brought her to my attention, I was intrigued to see that she was a northerner like me. Until thy Wrath be Past is Åsa Larsson's latest book to be translated into English, and to my delight it's set in Kiruna, not far from where I grew up. It's another novel starring prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson. A very appealing blurb promised murder, nazis, secrets, and ruthless people who would do anything to keep the past buried. Quercus Books kindly provided me with a review copy of Until thy Wrath be Past.

A young woman, Wilma, has moved to a small village to find peace from her neurotic mother and the stress from her studies. Simon, another youngster, starts spending a lot of time with his relative in the village. No doubt because of Wilma. The two youngsters quickly find each other. Wilma thrives in her new home, and the old men and women of the village are rejuvenated by the injection of youth. A chance to tell their stories to someone that has not already heard them a thousand times before. It's one of these stories that will be the death of Wilma and Simon. The young couple never return from a trip to explore the truth of a rumor.

When the body of Wilma is discovered months later the police in Kiruna are called in to investigate. Anna-Maria Mella is the officer in charge and although Wilma's death is first explained as a diving accident, she does notice a few things at the crime scene which do not add up.

Rebecka Martinsson, the prosecutor, has a very strange, vivid dream. A ghost of a girl, clearly the victim of drowning and with a mangled hand, visits her that night. Unlike most dreams, this one remains with Rebecka until the morning, and she clearly remembers the words she was told, "It wasn't an accident...".

I was at first disappointed by this. I thought I was reading a pure breed crime novel, not a supernatural crossover. Any disappointment I felt was quickly dispelled, a la Harry Potter, in the way which Åsa Larsson utilises the unique perspective of a corporeal ghost. Wilma becomes the silent narrator, always present, always observing and waiting for justice.

Until thy Wrath be Past has a very simple and straightforward murder plot. The focus is not really on the how, it's much more on the why and the who. Wilma, no longer bound by the laws of physics, let's us follow her murderers through their lives. Åsa Larsson's strength as a writer really shines here on this journey. There is a lot that can happen in a person's life that can turn them rotten, most of which will be done to them by other people. It was a heartbreaking read which felt disturbingly real. You don't really want to feel sympathy for a killer, but I found myself doing just that.

This is not a book full of gun fights and screeching tires. Like many other Scandinavian crime novels, crimes are solved by investigation and interviews. The conflicts to overcome were more of a personal nature than physical. Both Martinsson and Mella have recently come through some serious hardships, which continue to haunt them. They are two women, both used to being the one calling the shots, who now have to work together to bring the killer to justice. They respect each other but want to do things their own way.

Åsa Larsson's talent for making her characters feel real make it easy to forgive the ease with which the murder was solved. The tricks employed by Martinsson and Mella to catch the perpetrator were not exactly mind boggling. Then again, they were not up against Professor Moriarty.

Until thy Wrath be Past is a brutal, yet beautiful, tragedy. The strength of Åsa Larsson's characters made it very difficult to put the book down. They really captured my attention and sympathy. The first chapter hooked me, and after that there was no stopping. I just had to keep turning those pages. To me, it was a huge bonus that the book was set so close to where I was born and raised, however any fan of crime fiction should read this book.

An unexpected consequence from reading Until thy Wrath be Past is that I now want a dog.

Until thy Wrath be Past weighs in at 288 pages and is published by Quercus Books.

Recommendation: read

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